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Analysts: opt-in, automatic absentee ballots could be the difference in close races

A worker prepares absentee ballots for mailing.
Gerry Broome
A worker prepares absentee ballots for mailing.

Recent changes to voting might also have an influence over the outcome in close races.

Because of a recent change to Virginia election law, voters can ask that mail-in absentee ballots be sent to them in every election. Not an application for an absentee ballot, the actual ballot – but only for those who ask for it.

Former Republican Delegate David Ramadan is now at the Schar School at George Mason University, and he says Republicans are allowing Democrats to win the early vote.

"Early voting became controversial during the Trump era because Trump didn't like it because of his false claims of election fraud," he explains. "Thus, Republicans moved into this mode of early voting that is going to end up cost them now."

Usually what happens in a special election is that campaigns have to work hard just to let people know an election is happening. But now Democratic strategist Ben Tribbett says this new process where some voters receive a ballot while most voters do not is changing the dynamics.

"I would argue that even in marginal Republican districts, Democratic candidates may have the upper hand in special elections until Republicans get their act together on this whole early voting issue," Tribbett says.

He predicts that after Republicans lose in several election cycles, they'll change their mind about opt-in automatic absentee ballots and advocate for all voters to be sent a ballot instead of just those who request one.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.